“I’m not really sure any drink would describe who I am exactly,” says Al Sotack.
A self-described “bar dork,” Sotack began barbacking after college in 2004 and worked various bartending jobs across Manhattan before getting his start in the craft cocktail world at the Franklin in Philadelphia. Back in New York a few years later, he took bartending positions at both Death & Co. and Pouring Ribbons, but since 2016, he’s been working as a partner at Jupiter Disco, the sci-fi-themed bar he runs with his friend Maks Pazuniak in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
He’s quick to note that the futuristic theme doesn’t necessarily extend to the drinks, but rather the experience, which includes a scrolling digital menu that flashes neon green against a jet-black screen. Reminiscent of the sci-fi aesthetics of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the temporary nature of the menu works in his favor, too. “Part of the menu concept was that we could buy something super seasonal, use it until it’s gone, and easily take it off the menu and not feel imprisoned by seasonal menus that had to last sometimes three, or even up to nine, months long,” he says.
While the menu changes every few weeks, Sotack has over a decade of experience to call upon for inspiration. At Jupiter Disco, for example, Sotack revisits a classic swizzle from his early days at the Franklin, reincarnated as The Starbuck Swizzle, which calls for gin, Bonal, green Chartreuse, pineapple, honeydew and lime. “I’ve been working with the same palette of spirits for years,” he says, noting he’s had enough practice to foresee how those flavors will interact, for the most part. “Often I’ll sort of sit there without anything in front of me—without even being in a bar—and start jotting down ideas based on imaginary drinks in my head.”
So what does Sotack do when he’s not brainstorming the latest crop of cocktails for Jupiter Disco? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share the best meal he’s ever had, his favorite bar in New York and the last text message he sent. —Tatiana Bautista
Partner and bartender at Jupiter Disco. Occasionally people pay me to write about stuff, mostly bartending.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m 38 years old. I guess I don’t wanna grow up.
Best thing you ever drank:
The rum infusion at my wedding. It was the ceremony shot when we were married by my friend Nicholas Jarrett, so you’ll have to ask him what was in it. But it was on the Staten Island Ferry coming back to Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty in a ceremony of his/our own devising.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Whatever they used to call Jameson at Mars Bar, circa 2000 or so. That said, I wouldn’t change anything. The bartender, Francesca, who poured them for me remains an important person in my life.
First time you ever got drunk:
I remember stealing Bombay Dry [Gin] from my parents when I was very young, but the first time I got drunk proper was no doubt with one of my young punk friends (Anthony, Doc, Gary, Justin) skimming an ounce or so from many bottles and stashing them in ice tea containers to drink clandestinely in the woods. Trashy but idyllic.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Followed closely by Stooges’ Fun House. Then King Crimson’s Red.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I’m not sure if playing Dungeons and Dragons or dicking around with a guitar and piano at my age is “weirder” but these are all things I do. I know you’re going to say D&D.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That it’s a better investment to take time and advocate for your own health (physical and mental) while working in bars than to put in a million hours and run yourself raw to prove your value. I’m not sure if that was something I learned in the last five years exactly, but I certainly wish I knew this in the last 10.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Weird is not really a good word for me. It’s not super qualitative. I guess my mind goes to this drink from the Franklin where I was head bartender from 2009 to 2013. “Nevermind the Scenery Its Only Bleeding” was a Scotch swizzle (and ode to Dax Riggs, look him up) with pomegranate shrub that was I guess…(cue stoner voice)…WEIRD. It was also delicious.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
I like to hang out with my wife Jade, my daughter Jet and my best friend and familiar, Dr. Doom.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
I really don’t know. As long as you’re not screaming it at me while I’m talking to someone else it’s not that weird.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Josie’s in the East Village. It’s got everything going for it. It’s a historic bar (not quite as old as its sister-bar Sophie’s but it’s still of note) that is a vestigial survivor of the forgotten East Village dives that characterized my coming of age as a drinker in New York between 1999 and 2005 or so. It’s usually filled with characters. It has a jukebox and pool. The staff is amazing and my favorite bartender works there, my wife Jade. And I also love Beer Street and St. Vitus.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
I’ve been privileged working in service to get to eat in some amazing, amazing places over the years (especially in Philadelphia at a really great time in its culinary history), but the best meal I’ve had is brunch at my grandmother’s house growing up: orange juice, scrambled eggs, fruit and bread made that morning at the hundred year old bakery up the street—Senappe’s in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Still in operation. Go there for the pitz, stay for the round top.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Either a Jack Rose or a Vieux Carré depending on my stirred/sour inclination at the moment.
Whatever Jade tells me to drink.
In a dive bar?
Endlessly an American whiskey and a pilsner. I go Wild Turkey for rye and Old Granddad Bottled in Bond for bourbon as a general thing, but I ain’t picky in this context. See the aforementioned “Jameson.”
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
American diner, American comic books, a joint, a Bloody Mary, a run and some metal.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Needless words, especially the insipid and useless folding of technique into an otherwise ubiquitous ingredient. You know what I’m talking about—when you could say “almond” or “orgeat” but you say “aerated orgeat” or some fucking shit. “Salted orange juice.” “House blessed grenadine.” Whatever magic fucking thing you did to make it better than everyone else’s that nobody cares about. We’ve all done this but we should all just stop. Its ego-masturbation and it makes me want to die.
The last text message you sent:
This is wild but the last text I sent was to my wife on a run and it said “How scared of a single white balloon drifting through the cemetery with a smiley face on it should I be?” This was followed by three short videos of proof of said balloon before I realized I should probably still be running, in the opposite direction of this fucking balloon. Screenshots available on request!